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Hounded by hospitals, haunted by bus
Ethics debate over entry barrier

Healthcare professionals have blamed the lack of accountability in Bengal’s state-run hospitals for the rampant rude behaviour of doctors towards patients and their families.

The mistreatment that Sunil Halder and his wife Madhumita, whose left leg was crushed under the wheels of a bus, faced at two leading government hospitals in the city have reignited the debate over medical ethics and doctors making a mockery of the Hippocratic Oath.

The oath that every doctor takes during graduation says: “I will remember… that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”

These very values were lost in the Madhumita Halder case. Doctors at SSKM Hospital, where Madhumita was taken to from MR Bangur Hospital after the accident on Wednesday afternoon, allegedly denied her admission on the pretext that no bed was available. She was shifted to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital (CMCH), where she was wheeled into the operating theatre around 3 on Thursday morning. In the process, the “golden hour” to save her leg was lost.

As she lay writhing in pain on a mattress on the floor at CMCH, a senior doctor of SSKM Hospital said on Friday: “Such misbehaviour comes from a lack of respect for human lives. Many of these doctors at government hospitals, assured that their salaries are safe even if they refuse to do the job for which they are paid, never turn away a patient at private healthcare facilities. The most essential quality for a doctor is to respect a fellow human.”

Malay Dey, the principal secretary of the state health department, said the scourge of treatment refusal to critical patients wouldn’t be cured unless medical students were taught the virtues of ethics.

“Doctors misbehaving with patients and their relatives is a common complaint in government hospitals. It is important to make medical ethics a part of the MBBS curriculum because such values should be infused at an early age,” Dey told Metro.

At the emergency ward of SSKM Hospital, doctors use a stamp: “Regret. No bed vacant”. “That has to be our standard reply because we deal with numerous refusals. Altercations happen and we have to explain why the patient can’t be admitted. At times we get tired and irritated… so the rubber stamp,” a doctor said.

Another doctor said patients needing emergency treatment were often turned away because the hospital lacks basic critical-care medicines.

In 1996, the Supreme Court said: “Right to life includes right to receive proper medical facilities in a government hospital…. Any violation thereof would be treated as violation of… a fundamental right.”

State-run healthcare units have been told to respect the court verdict but still the complaints keep mounting. “The hospitals don’t even maintain a register on how many patients are turned away,” a health official said.